Toby Kiers

Evolutionary biologist
Toby Kiers investigates cooperation and punishment in nature.

Why you should listen

Toby Kiers's goal is to understand how symbiotic partnerships form between plants, animals and microbes, and what causes these partnerships to break down. Kiers has shown how plant roots and fungi form complex underground trade networks in which -- similar to human markets -- poor partners are punished and high-performing partners are rewarded. Kiers develops techniques in which she forces organisms to cheat and then tests how their partners respond. She discovered key mechanisms by which plant hosts can evaluate and control microbial communities on their roots. This has led to a better understanding of how hosts can actively manipulate their microbiomes.

Kiers received her PhD from University of California, Davis and is now a Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She has conducted research in Central America, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, and she is active in global agricultural policy and conservation efforts.

Toby Kiers’ TED talk